Whistleblower claim not recognizable under general maritime law, justices find

By David Yates | Jun 8, 2018

HOUSTON – A man alleging he was fired for warning that a vessel could not be operated safely received no help from a Texas appellate court Thursday, as justices declined to “eviscerate the boundaries” of general maritime law.

HOUSTON – A man alleging he was fired for warning that a vessel could not be operated safely received no help from a Texas appellate court Thursday, as justices declined to “eviscerate the boundaries” of general maritime law.

The appeal before the First District Court of Appeals presented the question of whether a common-law whistleblower claim should be recognized under general maritime law.

After he was fired, Cameron Haag initially initiated a whistleblower complaint with OSHA under the Seaman’s Protection Act.

When the complaint was dismissed, Haag turned to the courts, filing suit against Schlumberger Technology and WesternGeco.

Haag alleged that he was wrongfully discharged in retaliation for warning his employer, Schlumberger, that a vessel could not be operated safely with the proposed offshore seismic-surveying equipment.

Court records show a subsequent accident involving the vessel resulted in one crewman’s death and injuries to six others.

Afterwards, Haag told investigators that he had communicated his concerns over the use of the surveying equipment.

Two years after the accident investigation, Haag was terminated.

Court records show Haag’s employer successfully obtained a summary judgment rejecting his wrongful-discharge claims, prompting the appeal.

On appeal, Haag argued that he pleaded a recognized cause of action under maritime law and that he raised a genuine issue of material fact that the alleged retaliation was motivated in substantial part by his report about his concerns.

“On the particular facts of this case, in which Congress has enacted maritime whistleblower protections that do not apply to Haag’s circumstances, we conclude that his allegations do not state a claim under the limited exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine,” the opinion states, authored by Justice Michael Massengale on June 7.

“Accordingly, we affirm.”

Haag worked for the companies for about 20 years. After the accident, Haag received his lowest-ever performance evaluation. He then went on two disability leaves. When he returned from the second, Schlumberger fired him.

Justices concluded that Haag failed to plead a cognizable claim for retaliatory discharge, justifying a grant of summary judgment.

“The Seaman’s Protection Act expresses the will of Congress about the protection of seaman whistleblowers,” the opinion states. “We will not eviscerate the boundaries of the cause of action provided under that Act by a judicial expansion of seaman-whistleblower protection to a different class of beneficiaries than the class that Congress chose to protect.

“Summary judgment was properly granted because Haag did not plead a cognizable cause of action.”

Haag is represented by Pete Marketos, attorney for the Dallas law firm Reese Gordon Marketos.

The companies are represented by attorney Nancy Patterson of the Houston law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Appeals case No. 01-17-00017-CV

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